When Julie Arnold put up the rules list initially, she felt like a hypocrite. Like the teacher with the sugary exterior, the one who adorned the classroom with cute little posters with puppies cuddling, turning out to be a real harsh bitch. Or maybe she felt like the homemaker trophy wife who gives her kids the drug talk shortly before going upstairs and finding solace in her Percoset.
It wasn’t that she disagreed with the rules (those “lifeguard not on duty” days were the reason that the rules were up in the first place) but rather that they made her feel conflicted. These rules, which on Monday thru Thursday were strictly enforced by her, were indeed the basis for which her boorish little job was based. The internal conflict was more one of personality consistency, as she knew that ten years ago she would have been the whiny bastard breaking the rules and testing the patience of those at the Youth Center. This was what she hated. This cliché little inner struggle bullshit. This “Look at you, Julie, you’ve up and abandoned your youthful zeal. A tight-assed adult, burdened with means by which to support yourself financially and never getting up with the same spark anymore.” And although she felt this way, she did not feel that it was any emotionally stable route to be taking, as movies had de sensitized her to any sort trite thought sequencing. All this I don’t want to grow up fucking ‘Peter Pan’ nonsense. While these burdens of age unquestionably sucked, they were also necessary, she told herself. Children can afford to live the pipe dream. Children don’t have to worry ‘bout the bills and ‘bout the pills, ‘bout saving the whales or ‘bout paying the bails, and surely they didn’t have to worry about taking your brother to rehab in Chester 15 miles away twice a fucking week.
That drive always killed her. Culminating every time in some sort of Ted-sized version of “I really appreciate what you’re doing for me, Julie.” And then she would stay there on group night, holding hands with the other fuck ups that were finally back on the right track and living each day to it’s fullest. And these junkies were happier than she was, because when you reach some certain low, progress all of a sudden seems attainable. “ And I only started going to these so he would stop stealing from my purse” she kept telling herself. What really made the night painful would be the comparison. Here you had all these people who took time out of their “lives” to meet twice a week in hopes of someday getting back on track and she, who as family was not there because she had any diagnosed sort of addiction, would do what her instinct told her and keep her mouth shut. But on the inside, she knew that she was not an addict, but rather a victim. And not a victim of Ted and his purse thievery, something she could market to the group in an inspirational display of tears and tissues, but rather a victim of one sad, mundane existence.
Julie sat up and realized that she was still in the high chair when the tug on the arm came. Some ugly, stout woman clutching a nice little designer handbag with a doe eyed defecator at her heels. “ Excuse me…. Miss? Miss? Miss?” Julie, on the surface, appeared to be listening, but she really could have cared less at what this woman deemed valuable enough to break her state of euphoric contemplation. “ I need to run over to IKEA before they close and was wondering if it was alright to leave Andrew here for about an hour or so. He’s ten and I know that the sign on the wall says fifteen or accompanied by an adult but-” “Ma’am, that sign only applies to lifeguard not on duty days, your son will be fine.” “Well, thing is, I just wanted to make sure he would be watched, because I noticed you look a little tired.” This one offended Julie. She had been doing this shit job long enough to when, in the unlikely event that some kid really didn’t know what he was doing, she could jump in and play hero. At this YMCA, though, this hadn’t happened yet, so Julie had mixed ideas on how she would handle a real drowning situation. Part of her would save the kid and work the talk show circuit. She would spew self-righteous jargon about how she knew that God was testing her with the ordeal. Then the Moocow audience would get up and clap their chubby little hands together. Tears and hugs would ensue shortly followed by a “ we’ll be right back”. The viewer would then be given time to reflect on the heroic struggle while detergent commercials and car ads with licensed classic rock songs rolled on.
The other part of her would let the kid drown under the “any publicity is good publicity philosophy”. Then she could float around the bars with a bottle in her hand expecting someone to run into her every so often and say “ weren’t you that lifeguard who watched that kid drown?” and she would say “Yea, that’s me” before succumbing to another peace of cinematic poetic cliché and turning into the tortured soul who regrets the past and wants to change the future. That was one of the problems. She felt that whichever direction her life would ultimately take her would have some lofty benchmark of a cinematic equivalent and she would hate herself for falling short of it. It was then that she realized she still hadn’t responded to this blob of a woman at the foot of her chair. “Your son will be fine ma’am. I’ll keep a good watch on him” With that assurance the little garlic roll kissed her Andrew on his head and was on her merry little way. Julie looked at the clock on the wall and realized that it was almost time for her to get Ted and go to Chester. As soon as this woman came back for her son she would be out of there.
Every time she left she had trouble coming back. Her two door sedan contrasted quite nicely with all of the leather interior special edition SUV’s littered throughout the parking lot. And she felt the stench of a job at a YMCA in the bowels of a gathering place for soccer moms and ‘Go get ‘em tiger’ dads who sit on the side during a child’s basketball game and hassle the ref every time the call was questionable. Fuck that, she would tell herself, and then drive away debating whether or not to ever come back. This was Julies week with a few Chester excursions sprinkled in for equal measure. She was Queen Ketchup, lifeguard extraordinaire and champion of the mundane.
The last item that Roger checked his cute little Fanny pack for was the ‘one can black spray paint’. This would be essential if he didn’t want his face recognized by the video cameras. And he didn’t expect Julie to say a goddamn thing as he figured the shock would be too great for her to act on. His abruptness at running inside was still hampered by his self awe for thinking something of this great complexity up in the first place. And he knew that it would ultimately be a success, and he would run out to the car where Jimmy was waiting and they would give each other a high five before retreating to their one rooms, where Roger would secretly hate himself for destroying a girl that he loved so much just to win her embrace.
And he had done his homework. To further extend the analogy, Roger would have been fucking valedictorian of this feeble girl’s mind. He knew all about her shitty little life guarding stint, about her brother beating her to a pulp for smack money, and about those selfless drives that she took to try and help the sorry fuck two times a week. He remembered that time when Bill Drywin took her top off at that beach party in 11th grade. He remembered those small, perky breasts. And the ketchup infatuation. He remembered why everyone called the girl ‘Queen Ketchup’. He remembered these clenching fists in the cafeteria throwing dollar bills at the girl who loved the red stuff to such an extent that she would try the oddest combinations for a little bit of pocket change.
The mashed potatoes weren’t a big deal. French fries in another form, they were. But then when Hershey Bars and Caviar were implemented the ketchup dares would get weird. And kids would start bringing shit from home to try out on the poor girl. The Jell-O day hurt to watch.
But that maudlin adolescent woe was not to be lingered on. Enough of this adolescence, exchanged between miscreants, not just Roger but his comrade Jimmy, at a Barstucks, now had Roger robbing a bank for some potential pay off a little later down the road. Win the girl without the teddy bear and the fucking roses. Win the girl with a tad of insight into the human condition. That was what they agreed on at Barstucks, as they sat in that posh little coffee house with the beatniks and the tortured intellectuals. That was foolproof in their books. And to think, that goddamn adolescence started off the whole unlikely chain of events.
“You know what I never figured out, though?” Jimmy positioned his hands in a prayer like pose before continuing. “Patty Suis. What the fuck were you thinking?” Roger was never the type of guy who felt the need to explain himself. He would tell you that, on average, there were maybe ten instances he can remember during the course of a year to where he had done or decided on something impulsively and regretted it after. “And all of those times”, he said, “I fucking apologized.” So with this confidence and self-described “ knack for making analytically sound decisions” Roger felt confident enough to not need to explain his reasons for doing things that those around him might perceive as strange. So it made little sense when Jimmy, expecting a “Shut the fuck up man” got a story that would inevitably answer his Patty Suis inquiry.
Roger still looked comfortable and confident. “You think she was dog ugly, ugly as shit, don’t you?” Jimmy nodded as if this was common knowledge. “Well, friend, let me tell you, who I think we can both say is undoubtedly the more effeminate one between us, just how the male mind works.” Jimmy sat up in a ‘tell me more’, attentive posture. “Couple of years back in school, I’m chilling out at Steve Albert’s place with Grant Polley and were knockin back a few beers and watching the Denver game. It’s around this time that Steve tells us he’s got Rachel Allen and Lindsay Schwartz coming over. Says we knew em from high school. Now, lemme tell you, I don’t remember this Lindsay girl but Rachel Allen I did and she was something else. Tits ‘till Tuesday and a fucking face that would make a grown man cry. Type of chick you hear about in a goddamn country song. Type of girl who’d avoid schmucks like us in high school, too. So when this fellatio frat boy invites two chicks over, you can imagine that I was pretty intimidated. Grant was acting cool but I could imagine he was curious about these girls, too.”
“So eventually, these chicks come over, and what I realize is that while Rachel is just as beautiful as the day I last saw her, this Lindsay is one ugly fucking bird. Proves my theory that one good-looking girl always picks an ugly best friend to feel like the pretty one, you know? Some sort of constant ego boost, where Rachel thinks in the times where she’s feeling low ‘at least I don’t look like Lindsay’ and then everything’s fucking peachy again.” “So… what does that have to do with Patty Suis?” Jimmy was getting frustrated, as Roger ramblings were commonplace.“ I’m getting there, you douche. Patience is a fucking virtue.”
“So, these girls are over, and were still watching the Denver game, but now breaking during commercials to reminisce with the girls while the commercials were on. But after a while something became known. See, Steve has this pet fucking Iguana; I think his name was Tubs or something like that. Son of a bitch kept the thing in a terrarium with these cheap plastic plants and this heated rock for the thing to lie down on. Simulating their natural environment or something. And lemme tell you, this thing could shit. All I think he could do was eat, sleep, and shit. And, ‘cause of his lodging situation, this little Iguana’s shit never really went anywhere until Steve got off of his lazy ass and cleaned it out. Now, at first we were all trying to be polite. We smelled the musty ass but felt that, even though this was Steve we were dealing with, some manners were applicable. So we ignored it. But eventually the smell starts wafting over the couch and the rest of the fucking room, and all of a sudden I don’t feel like being a good sport anymore. I, with some persuasion, relocated us into another room in the house. Steve conceded because we moved into the room with the liquor cabinet. You know how those jock assholes are.”
“So we’re sitting there, chatting it up for a few hours and watching Steve stumble around like a dumbfuck and bitching about the work force or something, when I see Grant lean over to this Lindsay girl and whisper something into her ear. A couple of minutes later, oh so discreetly, these two, one-by-one, get up and leave the room. Now, the night’s not going to slow to a halt because these two left, and we’ve got the good looking one still with us, so their departure pretty much gets ignored. So it’s just Rachel and I, because while Steve is physically there, mentally he is somewhere else entirely. Eventually, out of fear for feeling responsible in the event that Steve hurt himself, Rachel deemed it time to end the festivities. Steve and I sat there while Rachel went to gather her troll of a friend, and then showed them to the door when they returned. And the minute that the door closed, Steve and I exchanged a look that could only mean one thing before proceeding to the Iguana’s room, confronting Grant, and demanding an explanation. Steve was inebriated beyond belief, but the dude knew that Grant’s impulsive decision to go into the room that reeked of iguana shit with the girl who, in fact, resembled an iguana, merited explanation. ‘Grant, man, what the fuck were you thinking?’ I was considering the notion that maybe Grant was not aware that bestiality was illegal. And Grant looked up at us with this sweaty, I just ran 35 miles, tired gaze and said, “I was thinking with my cock.”
“So what’s the verdict? Well, It doesn’t matter that I fucked Patty Suis because that is what we do. We think with our cocks. In heat, the type of girl we fuck transcends all rational level of reason. Testosterone takes over our brains. That’s what makes us different from women. Well, that and having penises, anyway. Although, nowadays, even that’s circumstantially specific. All these goofy sex change operation motherfuckers walking around, men with boob jobs and chicks with dicks, I have no idea what sex a heterosexual male even peruses anymore. All this new millennium bullshit has got things so confusing.”
Jimmy looked pissed. “So lemme tell you why I’m pissed, Rog. You take ten minutes to prove a point that you could have more eloquently summed up in about two. And besides all of that, your statement has no validity. I mean, sure, it’s true, but it doesn’t really serve as an adequate excuse to go out and make it with an ugly chick. Using this bullshit I could justify rape if I wanted too. Still don’t make the shit kosher.”
Never wavering, Roger shot back with “All I’m saying is that my fucking a girl with a big nose and a masculine voice is nothing compared to what some other people do as a result of Testosterone surges. I’ve run into some shit on the Internet that would blow your mind. Some sick fucks go around fucking horses and dogs and shit. I’m not making excuses, but I think you’ll agree that in the grand scheme of things, my travesty is the lesser of two evils.”
As if a good defecation had just taken place, Roger finally looked relieved. It was as if he had been waiting to get that off of his chest, as if he had kept it inside his head with several other retorts to claims form others that various actions of his were questionable. Jimmy looked different, too. He looked as if he had just been put in his place. Fact was, while both men were quite the thinkers, it was Roger who had always been the one to set things into motion. He would take a clever premise or a good idea that came up casually in one of their conversations and give it some sort of body, breathing life into it. He took ideas into the realms of true practicality, and it was for that reason that even in an argument, Jimmy could never stand to resent him for too long.
The only thing, it could be said, that Jimmy really had on Roger was the opposite sex. Roger sort of drifted around, meeting women casually and considering one week to be a long relationship. Jimmy, on the other hand, was a tad more selective. Jimmy had a pharmacist fetish. He only dated pharmasicts, but the relationships he had with them seemed to last an eterniry to Roger. Jimmy said that the magic of dating a pharmacist is that “They can bring you pleasure in ways that you never thought an earthly woman could.”
Roger figured that what kept these pharmisicts with Jimmy so long was their constant state of being medicated, which not only affirmed his suspicion of pharmasicts as stealing a little for their own usage, but also took a nice little jab at Jimmy in the process, just enough to have something to rag on him about, so as to not make roger look like the total loser with the opposite sex.
Still, the issue of Roger’s love life did come up on occasion, usually at a time when Jimmy felt he needed the upper hand in a conversation purely for superiority’s sake. And now was a better time than any. “ Hey, Rog, when are you going to chill out and find yourself a real girl, get away from this Patty Suis bullshit?” “Well, Jim, you know who I was thinking about the other night?” Jimmy shook his head, both of them knowing very well that he was not a mind reader. “I was thinking about Julie Arnold, man. Queen Ketchup.”
“Shit, I remember her. That girl must have made a hell of a lot of money with that gift.” Jimmy had a big smile across his face now, which to Roger somehow put the premise of a blowjob session somewhere in Jimmy and Julie’s non-existent history. “What gift? What the fuck are you talking about, Jim?” “ What, you don’t think eating ketchup with all that shit was a gift? Did you ever see that time she ate the green Jell-O?” “Remember? Shit yeah, I was fucking there. Hurt to watch.” “Ya know, essentially, the chick was a whore.” Now Roger looked offended as if Jimmy had just desecrated his grandmother’s casket. “How so?” Now Jimmy was emerging triumphant as the insightful one. “Well, she did shit, at the will of others, for money. Whores do that, too. The only difference is the added risk of VD, I suppose.”
Roger looked down at the floor after that last comment and said, “Well, I wouldn’t know. I’ve never even talked to this girl before. And it isn’t a confidence issue, either. She just screams unattainable. Its intimidating.” Now Roger was waiting for the obligatory best friend reassurance that always comes when a guy self depreciates his dating skills in front of his friend. But it never came. Roger saw this as rude in a way, because no response meant that Jimmy had to have been agreeing with him. But instead of the figurative pat on the back came something virtually unheard of in the long history of Barstucks chats that the two gentlemen have ever had. It was a monumental, genius concept all right. But the anomaly was where it was coming from. “What would you say if I was to tell you that I could get Julie Arnold to fall madly in love with you, or any woman that you had access to, for that matter?” A raised eyebrow or two was to be expected, but Jimmy nonetheless went on explaining a concept with which he had been toying with in his mind.
He decided to start by analyzing the very reason we fall in love in the first place. We All have moments in our lives, Jimmy said, both bad and good, that serve as bookmarks of sorts. They are cataclysmic in that they are the memories and the moments that comprise us and define the life we live. Your wedding day, your first dental appointment, finding out that you’re your child is on drugs, being held hostage in a bank robbery. All of these events ring special significance to those who experience them, and the ultimate purpose of love, Jimmy said, is to have someone to share these moments with. Another soul to reminisce with in the geriatric years. We fall in love because we want to spend the rest of our lives with a person, and it is ultimately these monumental moments that make up our lives.
But, in a strictly hypothetical sense (Jimmy sounded eerily scholarly when he got to this part), what would happen if these events, these monumental, life-affecting events, were set up. What if, with the goal of ultimately falling in love, someone with this knowledge honed in on one specific person, and followed them around, setting up and creating a series of earth shattering events around the person and injecting themselves into each and every event, so that the concept of living through these milestone moments with someone who you love happens at the beginning of the relationship instead of at the end? What if the whole thing was fabricated?
This is what Jimmy wanted to test. He called it ‘Love in Reverse’ and he saw Queen Ketchup as the perfect specimen for experimentation. “ She’ll be head over fucking heels for you, and she wont even know why. But you two will have that deep connection with a magnitude of an old married couple who has led one hell of an interesting life.” Roger could not hold back the fact that he was impressed. And Jimmy came up with this all by himself.
“Question, Jim. What if the basis for love is not what you think it is. What if the basis for love is something totally different? People have been contemplating this shit for years. If you’ve figured it out I applaud you, and you make sense, but for Christ’s sake, those are some bold fucking claims.” Jimmy seemed to know what Roger was trying to say, what was on the tip of his tongue but not coming out right. “Look, I get it. You don’t want to see this girl’s head get fucked up. You’re worried that if my theory’s right we’ll destroy this poor girl and you won’t be able to sleep at night, but I’m sure she’d be fine. Either it works sans repercussions or it doesn’t. There really isn’t any bogus variable here.”
Roger nodded which Jimmy took as a yes and a signal to go ahead with the experiment, but roger was still shaken. It was partly because a genius Idea had arisen at the lips of his comrade, and it was partly because he had never taken a life before. And he imagined that putting a gun to someone’s head and pulling the trigger was a much more humane act that withering away at a single girl’s psyche with this ‘Love in Reverse’ concept. All Roger knew is that he wasn’t the only one with gears turning in the head anymore, and that scared the shit out of him.